University of Vermont

Healthy Farms - Healthy Agriculture

Disposal of Dead Animals sheep photo by Krista Cheney, link to home page

General Farm Biosecurity Practices—
Disposal of Dead Animals

Carcasses can be a hazard to the environment and other animals so they require special handling. To minimize soil or water contamination and the risk of spreading disease, guidelines for proper carcass disposal must be followed. Disposal options include calling a licensed collector to remove deadstock or burial in an approved animal disposal pit. Alternatives include incineration and composting. Composting avoids the air contamination associated with burning mortalities and is economical. Since the heat in the pile eliminates most pathogens, composting can also improve the biosecurity of your farming operation.

If death was caused by a highly infectious disease:

  • Clean and disinfect the area after the carcass is removed.
  • Wear protective clothing when handling deadstock and thoroughly disinfect or dispose of clothing before handling live animals.
  • Properly dispose of contaminated bedding, milk, manure, or feed.
  • Check with your State Veterinarian about disposal options. Burial may not be legal. Special methods of incineration or composting may be used in cases of highly infectious diseases.

If a licensed collector picks up your deadstock:

  • Limit the access of the deadstock collector and his vehicle to areas well away from other animals, their feed and water supply, grazing areas, or walkways.

If you bury deadstock on your own property, minimum site requirements in Vermont, according to the Agency of Natural Resources Procedure Addressing Disposal of Dead Animals (2001), are:

  • 6 feet above bedrock, 4 feet above seasonal high ground water
  • 2 feet of soil on top, final cover
  • greater than 100 feet from property lines
  • greater than 300 feet from water supplies

Animals that were exhibiting neurologic signs prior to death will need to have samples collected by your veterinarian for testing. Special disposal regulations may apply.

Composting Deadstock

If you compost your deadstock, follow the steps listed below:

1. Decide what method you will use.

Composting methods include static piles, turned windrows, turned bins, and contained systems. Information on the first three methods is available on several Web sites listed under "Resources on deadstock disposal."

  • Static piles with minimum dimensions of 4 feet long x 4 feet wide x 4 feet deep are by far the simplest to use.
  • Turned windrows may be an option for farmers already composting manure in windrows.
  • Turned bin systems are more common for handling swine and poultry mortalities.
  • The EcoPOD® is a contained system developed by Ag-Bag, which has been used to compost swine and poultry mortalities.

2. Select an appropriate site.

  • Well-drained with all-season accessibility.
  • composting photo by Julie SmithPhoto: Julie Smith, DVM, Ph.D

  • At least 3 feet above seasonal high ground water levels.
  • At least 100 (preferably 200) feet from surface waterways, sinkholes, seasonal seeps, or ponds.
  • At least 150 feet from roads or property lines—think about which way the wind blows.
  • Outside any Class I groundwater, wetland or buffer, or Source Protection Area—contact NRCS for verification.

3. Select and use effective carbon sources.

  • Use materials such as wood chips, wood shavings, coarse sawdust, chopped straw or dry heavily bedded horse or heifer manure as bulking materials. Co-compost materials for the base and cover must allow air to enter the pile.
  • If the bulking materials are not very absorbent, cover them with a 6-inch layer of sawdust to prevent fluids from leaching from the pile.
  • Cover the carcass 2 feet deep with high-carbon materials such as old silage, dry bedding (other than paper), sawdust, or compost from an old pile.
  • Plan on a 12' x 12' base for an adult dairy or beef animal. The base should be at least 2 feet deep and should allow 2 feet on all sides around the carcass.
  • When composting smaller carcasses, place them in layers separated by 2 feet of material.

4. Prepare the carcass.

  • After placing the carcass on the base, lance the rumen of adult cattle. Forget this once and you'll never forget again! Explosive release of gasses may uncover the pile releasing odors and attracting scavengers.

5. Protect the site from scavengers.

  • Adequate depth of materials on top of the carcass should minimize odors and the risk of scavengers disturbing the pile.
  • Scavengers may be deterred by the temperatures within the pile, but if not, an inexpensive fence of upside down hog wire may be adequate to avoid problems.

6. Monitor the process.

  • Keep a log of temperature, carcass weight, and co-compost materials when each pile is started. Weather and starting materials will affect the process.
  • Measure pile temperature with a compost thermometer 6 to 8 inches from the top of the pile and deep within to check for proper heating. Check daily for the first week or two. Pile temperature should reach 131°F for 3 consecutive days to eliminate common pathogens.
  • Record events or problems such as scavenging, odors, or liquid leaking from the pile.
  • Wait. Most large carcasses will be fully degraded within 4–6 months. Smaller carcasses take less time. Turning the pile after 3 months can accelerate the process.

composting photo by Julie SmithPhoto: Julie Smith, DVM, Ph.D

7. Use the finished materials carefully.

  • Use as the base for a new pile. Bones add structure and will continue to decompose.
  • Spread on fields growing animal feedstuffs.
  • Avoid spreading material with large bones on fields as they may fragment and puncture tires.
  • Do not spread skulls. They're bad for public relations!

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Last modified November 06 2010 11:25 PM

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